Brown Pelican

Silhouette PelicansPelicans

Brown Pelican

Pelecanus occidentalis
  • ORDER: Pelecaniformes
  • FAMILY: Pelecanidae
Basic Description

The Brown Pelican is a comically elegant bird with an oversized bill, sinuous neck, and big, dark body. Squadrons glide above the surf along southern and western coasts, rising and falling in a graceful echo of the waves. They feed by plunge-diving from high up, using the force of impact to stun small fish before scooping them up. They are fairly common today—an excellent example of a species’ recovery from pesticide pollution that once placed them at the brink of extinction.

More ID Info
image of range map for Brown PelicanRange map provided by Birds of North AmericaExplore Maps

Find This Bird

To find Brown Pelicans, head to the southern coasts of the US (Atlantic, Gulf, or Pacific) and look for huge birds gliding low over the water—check nearby gulls and cormorants as a size reference. These birds plunge into the water to feed. The huge splashes they make can, from out of the corner of your eye, look like a whale’s spout. If you see a splash, look for the bird on the water’s surface as it drains water from its throat pouch, or scan for other pelicans circling around to dive in the same spot. If you can’t find pelicans over the water, head to a jetty, mudflat, or estuary to look for groups of them resting.

Other Names
  • Pelícano Pardo (Spanish)
  • Pélican brun (French)
  • Cool Facts